THE SANCTIONS. The hypocrisy is thick: NordStream 2 (257.a.9) is specifically targeted; damage to NASA (237) is carefully voided. (NASA needs the Russians to get to the ISS and to launch things but European allies can freeze in the dark. Take that, Europeans, it’s for your own good! “You can’t… ask for a bigger U.S. military commitment… while… oppose nonmilitary coercive measures“). The effect of anti-Russia sanctions since 2014 is that Europe has likely suffered more than Russia and certainly more than the USA; Russia has used the sanctions (and its counter sanctions) to increase domestic production (see below) whereas Europe has just lost markets. Well, we’ll find out whether Europe has the feet to stand on that Merkel thinks it has. Russia has many ways to respond and, as Jeffrey Carr has pointed out, Congress has shown it where to hit hardest. Another thing to find out is whether Moscow decides it’s had enough – as Medvedev suggests – and that it’s time to make its “partner” hurt. (Some responses: no more rocket engines, no overflights, no supply line to Afghanistan, no US NGOs, no Russian investments in USA, no accepting US dollars in trade. But Putin & Co will probably come up with something cleverer than anything I can think of). They will be a drag on Washington’s foreign policy for decades: “never recognize” Crimea in Russia (257.a.3)? well, they’re going to have to some time. I am collecting negative reactions on my site. They’re another step on the downward trajectory of the USA: they will drive a wedge between Europe and the USA; push Russia closer to China; may even lead to a rapprochement between Europe and Russia. But short-sighted outbursts are to be expected in the final days I suppose: Congress’ war with Trump displays a contemptuous indifference to its allies’ interests. (Mercouris argues that Trump’s signing statement hints at a Supreme Court challenge: very plausible given that there is nothing to the Russia collusion story – even the WaPo seems to be backing off – and that Trump will be able to appoint more SC judges.)
SANCTIONS EFFECT. Russian statistics tell us that the share of imports in the retail sector is 36%, the lowest since the 2008 crash. Food imports are down to 24% from 34% in 2014. The percentage of imports in various categories: cereals 0.2%; sausages 1.6%; flour 1.8%; poultry 4.1%; pork 8.3%. Gessen will be glad that cheese imports are 27.7%, but sad that they’re down from 48.4%. Sanctions work: just not the way the US Congress thinks they do. Altogether, it’s probably fair to say that Russia is now self-sufficient in food. And production is only going to become bigger: the potential of Russian agriculture has never been tapped; serfdom, the village mir and collectivisation were not very productive.
CORRUPTION. The trial of the former Minister of Economic Development has begun. He was caught red-handed taking a bribe they say. I believe he is the highest ranking official yet to be charged: some – Luzhkov and Serdyukov spring to mind – have been accused of things and been fired, but no charges laid. We are told that 45,000 people have been convicted of corruption crimes over the last three and a half years and about 350 officials have been fired this year and the same last year.
VILLAGE LIFE. Someone who often lives in the Russian countryside blasts another NYT-Russia-is-an-unchanging-nightmare piece. Agreement from an American happily living in a village.
PHOTO OP. Putin and Shoygu, alone but for photographers, go fishing in Tyva; they forget to pack shirts. Western media goes nuts. (DMail) (USA Today) (Daily B) (AP) (Fox) (Time) (Sky) (WaPo) (TorSun) (News.com.au) France 24) (Telegraph) (You look for the rest). Maybe he really is “the most powerful man in the world“. Bare-chested Trudeau and Obama are ever so dreamy, but bare-chested Putin isn’t: CrazyLand is bigger than I imagined. (Do you think Putin is messing with their minds?)
THE THREAT. Pew has an international survey out asking about leading security threats. The following NATO members name US power as a greater threat than Russian or Chinese: Canada, Germany, Greece, Spain and Turkey. USA is named first by 19 countries, China by 9, Russia by 7. This is a competition that the US has won every time out of the gate. And rising. Interesting, eh? And after all that propaganda, too. NATO StratCom needs more money!
UKRAINE. The disaster continues. In 2001 its population was 48.5 million. Latest official estimate is 42.5. Examination of various consumption statistics suggest that this estimate is too high. About 2.5 million are in Russia and another 1.5 million in Poland. At some point, for a country constructed out of bits and pieces of other states, depopulation will become geopolitically significant.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer